Like many occupations, motor racing tends to be a family affair. The children of professional racing drivers often become racing drivers themselves, to varying degrees of success. In very rare cases, both generations reach the pinnacle of their chosen racing categories. Let’s have a look at how this has happened in Formula 1.
In the history of motor racing, it’s not all that unusual for multiple members of the same family to race in Formula 1 (examples include Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve; Emerson, Wilson Jr and Christian Fittipaldi; Jody and Ian Scheckter; Michael and Ralf Schumacher; Jos and Max Verstappen) . Winning the World Championship, however, is a much more elite affair, so much so that only twice has a World Champion been related to a previous World Champion. In both cases, the relationship was a that of son-father.
The first son of a World Champion to win the title himself was Damon Hill, in 1996. Damon is the son of double World Champion Graham Hill, who won the title in 1962 for BRM and 1968 for Lotus. While Damon was certainly exposed to racing from a very young age due to his father’s career, it was by no means a given that he would find success in Formula 1. Having started his racing career on motorcycles, Damon only started racing racing cars from 1983, when he was already 23 years old.
Damon Hill made his F1 debut for Brabham at the 1992 Spanish Grand Prix. At the time, he was 31 years old, which even then was unusually old for a driver to break into Formula 1. In the same season, he was a test driver for Williams, who signed him for a race seat in 1993 when Riccardo Patrese moved to Benetton. Hill won 3 races in 1993, providing his team-mate and eventual champion Alain Prost with a stronger challenge than expected.
In 1994, Damon remained with Williams to partner Ayrton Senna, and would no doubt have expected to spend the season as Senna’s number two. Tragically, Senna was killed at the San Marino Grand Prix, and Hill inherited the role of team leader and challenger to championship leader Michael Schumacher.
Schumacher would go on to take the title in 1994 and 1995, with Hill second in both seasons. 1996, however, was Hill’s year, and he fended off a strong challenge from Williams team-mate Jacques Villeneuve to realise his dream of becoming Formula 1 World Champion. In doing so, he became the first son of a World Champion to win the title.
For a while, it seemed that the Hill family might have a chance of producing a third-generation champion. Damon’s son Josh raced single seaters for a few years, progressing as high as the European Formula 3 Championship in 2013, but decided to retire from racing that season.
Nico Rosberg became only the second son of a World Champion to win the title himself when he beat Lewis Hamilton to the 2016 crown just a few weeks ago. Nico is the son of Keke Rosberg, who won the title for Williams in 1982.
Success at F1 level was a long time coming for Nico Rosberg. He made his debut for Williams in 2006, but had to wait until the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, his 111th Grand Prix start, to take his first win in Formula 1. It was worth the wait, however, as the younger Rosberg would go on to win 23 races and eventually the 2016 World Championship.
Nico Rosberg owes his F1 success to a significant extent to the dominance of the Mercedes team over the past few seasons. That’s not to minimise his achievement – the vast majority of F1 championships have been won in the fastest car. However, being at Mercedes has also brought the challenge of being team-mate to Lewis Hamilton.
Rosberg finished runner-up to Hamilton in 2014 and 2015 before finally besting his illustrious team-mate in 2016. Such was the dominance of the Mercedes team, though, it could easily have been Rosberg who topped the standings in all three seasons. His defeat of Hamilton in 2016 was testament to Rosberg’s determination and consistency. Never before in the history of F1 has a driver beaten his own triple-World Champion team-mate to the title.
In winning the 2016 World Championship, Rosberg became only the second son of a World Champion to win the title. His shock retirement from F1 immediately after securing the crown means there are no drivers currently in Formula 1 who can repeat the achievement – assuming they continue to race in 2016, Max Verstappen, Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer are all the sons of former F1 drivers, but none of their fathers won the World Championship.
Who will be next?
In the junior ranks of single seater racing, no name is currently attracting more attention than Mick Schumacher. The son of seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Michael Schumacher, Mick is 17 years old and looks likely to make his Formula 3 debut in 2017.
Mick Schumacher seems to be more than just a young driver with a famous name. In 2016, he competed in Italian Formula 4 and German Formula 4 and finished runner-up in both championships, with a combined total of 10 wins and 8 pole positions.
The young Schumacher is currently racing in the 2016–17 MRF Challenge Formula 2000 Championship, which takes place from November 2016 to February 2017. He is fourth in the championship, with 2 victories.
Rumours over the last couple of years have linked Mick Schumacher with the junior programs of the Ferrari and Mercedes Formula 1 teams. Given the close ties both F1 teams have to the Schumacher family, it seems possible that Mick could be under consideration for a Formula 1 drive in the future, assuming that he continues to impress as he makes his way through the junior ranks.
David Coulthard is a household name. He’s known as a successful Formula One driver, a commentator and a Scotsman. In his career as a driver, he battled with (and sometimes beat) Michael Schumacher, Mike Hakkinen and Damon Hill, to name but a few. He won 13 Grands Prix, including races at some of motor racing’s great venues – Monaco, Silverstone and Spa, among others – and finished second to Schumacher in the 2001 World Championship.
In this video, David Coulthard talks about his road to Formula One, his career as a driver with Williams, McLaren and Red Bull, and his new role as a commentator and F1 pundit. He’s frank, honest, and unafraid of criticising himself. This is well worth watching for any follower of Formula One.
If you want to be loved by the Tifosi (Ferrari fans), you must win at Monza in a Ferrari. Schumacher did so at his first attempt, in the 1996 Italian Grand Prix. It was not a likely victory.
Throughout the 1996 season, Ferrari had struggled with unreliability. In the 13 races preceding the Italian Grand Prix, Schumacher had retired six times, five due to failures on the car. The most embarrassing of the retirements came in France, where Schumacher’s Ferrari engine failed on the warm-up lap, before the race had even begun.
Schumacher had won twice already in 1996. First in Spain in torrential rain, where he produced arguably one of the greatest drives in the history of Formula One. Then in Belgium, where tactics and a quick and unusually reliable Ferrari helped him to his second victory of the season.
Schumacher qualified third for the Italian Grand Prix, as usual just behind the Williams pair of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. A poor start from Schumacher put him down to sixth place by the end of the first lap, and gave him plenty of work to do if he wanted to achieve a good result at Ferrari’s home race.
David Coulthard, who was running fifth for McLaren, was soon out of Schumacher’s way and beached in the gravel trap at the Roggia chicane. Schumacher then set about attacking Jacques Villeneuve for fourth position. He swept by the Canadian’s Williams into the Ascari chicane and then chased after the leading trio of Hill, Alesi and Hakkinen.
On lap 3, Hakkinen clipped a heap of tyres that had been placed on the apex of one of the chicanes to prevent drivers from cutting the corners (an astoundingly dangerous strategy by the stewards) and damaged his front wing, making him vulnerable to Schumacher who was closing quickly. Schumacher looked for a way past during the fourth lap, but could not get close enough to the McLaren in a straight line and had to wait until Hakkinen peeled off into the pits at the end of the lap for a front wing change. Now in third place after four laps, Schumacher chased after Alesi in second and Hill in the lead.
Lap 6 saw the sudden and unexpected retirement of Damon Hill. In a momentary lapse of concentration, Hill hit the tyres on the right-hand part of the second Retiffilo chicane, breaking the front suspension of his Williams and spinning him into retirement. Hill’s accident gifted the lead to Alesi and promoted Schumacher to second place.
Within a few laps, Schumacher had inched his way up to the back of Jean Alesi‘s Benetton and was pressuring for the lead. But Alesi held his own well, keeping Schumacher behind until it was time for Alesi to peel off into the pits and take on a fresh set of tyres and fuel to last until the end of the race. Schumacher stayed out, taking over the lead at the end of the 31st lap to the delight of the Ferrari fans, and began to push, delivering the fastest lap of the race the next time round.
On lap 33, Schumacher pitted for his one and only fuel and tyre stop. He had been pushing hard to make up ground on Alesi, and it paid off. Schumacher emerged from the pit lane well clear of Alesi’s Benetton, and the Italian crowd rose to their feet with joy at having a Ferrari out in front at Monza.
From that point on, Schumacher had only to keep going to take his first Italian Grand Prix victory. He was comfortably faster than Alesi, even without pushing, which meant only a mistake or mechanical failure could come between him and victory. But the drama was not quite over yet. Several drivers had retired or had to pit for new front wings after clipping the tyres that were sitting at each apex of the chicanes. With just over 10 laps remaining in the race, Schumacher clipped the tyre stack with his left front tyre in the first Retiffilo chicane. Fortunately, there was no major damage, just a small vibration that disappeared as the race went on. But it was a close call for Schumacher, and he gave the tyres a wide berth for the rest of the race.
Schumacher held on to win the race by 18 seconds from Jean Alesi, and set the fastest lap of the race with 3 laps to go. Mika Hakkinen finished third for McLaren. It was the first Ferrari win at Monza since Gerhard Berger won in 1988, and was the first of five wins for Schumacher at the historic circuit.
After the race, Schumacher was visibly jubilant on the podium as he took in the scene of thousands of Ferrari fans crowding towards him on the main straight of Monza. Afterwards, he described the experience of standing on the Monza podium:
“I have never seen such emotion. It’s crazy. It is only possible in Italy. It’s fantastic. You get goose bumps everywhere. They have waited a long time for this and they deserve it.”
Michael Schumacher would experience the thrill of victory at Monza another four times in his career – in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006 – and would never win the Italian Grand Prix in any car other than a Ferrari.
In recent years, a number of Formula One drivers have turned to TV commentary in their retirement. Michael Schumacher does not look set to join them.
Martin Brundle, David Coulthard, Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill are among the well-known names of Formula One racing who will feature in British Formula One coverage this season. Their expertise will certainly add to the experience of watching the BBC and Sky English language feeds throughout the world. Perhaps German broadcasters would like to have a similar offering in their home language.
Schumacher retired from Formula One for the second time at the end of 2012, which makes him an obvious target for any broadcaster looking to improve its offering by adding a driver expert to its panel of experts. As the most successful driver in Formula One history, Schumacher would have invaluable insights into what goes on in the cockpit and, perhaps more importantly, could provide detailed understanding of race strategy – after all, he and technical genius Ross Brawn used brilliant strategies to their advantage during Ferrari’s dominant period from 2000 to 2004.
But the seven-time champion is not interested in joining the media. In an interview with German newspaper Bild, he said he would rather spend time at home with his family, which he was unable to do as much as he might have liked during his long racing career. And, as he himself has said, why would he go into commentating if he were following the Formula One circus around the world? Driving would be more fun.
Schumacher has spent his time since retiring assisting his wife Corinna, who breeds horses and markets her own range of horse blankets. But while he is not maintaining any active involvement in Formula One, his interest in the sport remains. He will be watching the opening race on Sunday from his home in Switzerland. He thinks “the season’s going to be really tight.” Let’s hope he’s right.